Unique Canadian Armed Forces program places artists into actual missions

Article / April 5, 2016 / Project number: 16-0032

This is the first in a series of articles about present-day Canadian war artists, including painters, photographers, writers and sculptors, who retain the freedom to create what they like following a 10-day experience with Canadian Armed Forces members on an actual mission.

Ottawa, Ontario — “There’s no life like it,” was a well-known Canadian Armed Forces slogan that could also be used to describe the unique Canadian Forces Artists Program (CFAP).

The program thrusts chosen artists into a full-on military experience for 10 days with rations, uniforms and military plane rides. CFAP, which began in 2001, has five to 10 volunteer artists being dropped into Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) exercises and operations every two years.

According to the program administrator, John McFarlane, this makes for a win-win opportunity for both the artists and the Canadian military. “The artists visit a CAF mission, create and keep their pieces of art and then we arrange for an exhibit of their work,” he says of the program that documents Canadian military efforts from a variety of perspectives.

Each cycle, as many as 50 artists, having both civilian and military backgrounds, apply to the program by filling out required forms and providing photos of their work. The artists, who use a variety of media including photography, drama, video, music, and paint, need to have at least three years of professional practice in their field beyond their training. CFAP has a board of 10 members from the Canadian art community who choose the winning applications.

The artists are chosen for their abilities but are not paid. The program funds their travel and insurance only, usually totalling a maximum of $5,000,” explained Mr. McFarlane, a historian with the CAF Directorate of History and Heritage. He spends one day of each week as the administrator of CFAP.

According to Dick Averns, the program’s first non-fiction writer to be deployed as a war artist, the benefit to this volunteer arrangement is unparalleled freedom of expression in that artists will not likely feel obliged to create art to please the paymaster. Averns was deployed in 2009 to Operation CALUMET , Multinational Force and Observers, an independent peacekeeping operation in the Sinai Peninsula. Part of his CFAP assignment was to produce an essay that examined the CAF military art program through careful comparisons with other international programs. He considered cultural initiatives from six countries: Canada, Egypt, Israel, Australia, the UK, and the U.S. for art created about the War on Terror.

Being inserted into real CAF situations enables Canadian artists, both civilian and military, to explore and learn, noted Mr. McFarlane. The end result is a form of cultural communication that is as distinct as our military and our national identity.

A lot of artists discover that they have a change of view. This becomes most obvious during the question-and-answer sessions that we hold during their exhibitions. Artists may go into the experience already expecting something. About 90 percent of them come away with positive feelings about the military. That is what we are hoping, with this program.

Mr. Averns sees a second positive outcome of the freedom offered to CFAP artists: it allows other positions or viewpoints to emerge. “I know of no comparable program, with an open submission process for artists, that offers deployment with their country’s military,” said Averns, who is also a photographer.

Potentially, the art that emerges through CFAP enables that which might otherwise remain unseen or silent to become visible.

“Potentially, the art that emerges through CFAP enables that which might otherwise remain unseen or silent to become visible.”

By Anne Duggan, Army Public Affairs

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